Seely Hall: Half a century of drawing Alaska

Arts Profile

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

From Aztecs to earthquakes: Seely Hall has been selling his detailed pencil drawings since he came to Alaska more than 50 years ago. His original artwork of landscapes and Alaska scenes are available at the Juneau Artists Gallery.

Hall turned 77 the day after Christmas. He still has some of the first drawings he made as a child 70 years ago in Medford, Ore. He loved art and said his early drawings were straight from his imagination, fanciful Aztec and Inca scenes. He went on to study art at Stanford University before World War II, then dropped out to join the Air Force. He moved to Anchorage in 1949, began a career in banking and started a business selling stationary and notecards featuring his art. He retired from banking in the mid-1980s.

He lived in Seward and Sitka before moving to Juneau 30 years ago. He witnessed firsthand some 20th century Alaska disasters.

"I saw the eruption of Mt. Spur in Anchorage, lost my house in the 'quake in Seward, then our church burned down in '67 in Sitka," he said.

Nut for detail: Hall will do a rough sketch in the field and take a photograph as well so he can finish the drawing at home.

"Pencil work is so detailed, I can't do a finished sketch just by looking at it. It's not like a watercolor or oil," he said.

He's done oil paintings and watercolors, but prefers the detail he gets with pencil.

"I'm a nut for detail," he said.

He studied etching at the University of Alaska. Etching does allow detail, but it's backwards - the drawing is a mirror image. "Etchings sold like hotcakes, but didn't hold my interest," he said.

Glacier from memory: These days, Hall draws mostly from photos or old postcards of places that no longer exist, he said. He likes drawing the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, the Shrine of St. Therese and the Mendenhall Glacier.

"I can pretty well do the glacier from memory," he said.

Hall said artistic talent runs in his family. His father made art and his brother Owen is a professional watercolor artist in Mercer Island, Wash. Hall has a drawing made during the Civil War by a relative who sketched war scenes as an illustrator for a New York newspaper.

Appreciating original art: Aside from the stationary cards, Hall does not make prints of his drawings and sells only the framed originals. Unframed pencil drawings, even coated with fixative, are too vulnerable to smearing. Prints don't capture the detail, and he said people appreciate owning an original piece of art.

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